We’re in a paradoxical period of the digital age – CDs are becoming obsolete and illegal mp3 downloads are all too commonplace, while formats that were assumed to see quick and painless deaths are making a gradual but triumphant return onto the scene. Vinyl fanatics often insist on superior sound quality, but for many of us, coming across a vinyl record or a cassette tape evokes feelings of nostalgia that take us back to our first memories of experiencing music in an interactive way. Artists have recently begun to embrace the latter and Fnord Tapes, a cassette tape record label that splits its time between the UK and Italy, has taken note. Northern Transmissions spoke to Marco and Roberto, the duo behind Fnord Tapes, about the resurrection of the cassette tape and what they foresee for the future of so-called “cassette culture.”
NT: Firstly, a question that I’m sure you’ve been asked to death: Why cassettes? Why start a cassette record label?
Marco: Why cassettes? They’re small and have got a warm scratchy sound.
Roberto: And You know, It some kind of nostalgic collector’s item as well.
NT: Regarding the name of your label, “Fnord” is a term used to indicate that someone is being ironic, humorous, or surreal (Thanks, Wikipedia!). Is resurrecting the cassette tape format a bit of all three combined?
Marco: The name “Fnord” was born in this way: we saw one of those TV programs talks about aliens and the end of the world. They said that the word “Fnord” was added on newspapers, to generate a state of anxiety. Thats it, we were anxious (so excited) to use “Fnord”!
NT: Your website, Instagram, and Tumblr blog are in black and white. Was this aesthetic choice intentional in relation to developing a nostalgic feel that matches the kitschiness of bringing back cassettes?
Marco: Everything based on your personality. We like the white moon and we love the night in the woods. And yes, something like a “nostalgic feel”, as well.
Roberto: You know, the description says: “Fnord Tapes is a cassette record label with a romantic affection for mountains, moss and mist.” 🙂
NT: Both are “dying” mediums, but do you think that the cassette will grow to have the same following as the vinyl record?
Roberto: We had studied before… you know, We have done a “market research”… ahahah something like that.
Marco: Anyway, now there are so many cassette tapes stores, and so many cassette record label. Maybe, just our friends don’t buy cassettes! Marco/Roberto: You know what we mean? 🙂
NT: Being based in Italy, do you find that European audiences for records on cassettes differ from, say, North American audiences?
Roberto: Actually, we are half based in Italy and half based in UK. Our “headquarters” is in London but everything Is made… mmmhhh, somewhere in the north of Italy: on the mountain with moss and mist 🙂 At the moment many orders are going to USA and UK, but for example in Italy nothing.
Marco: Anyway, I think, music’s fans are everywhere, so I don’t see any difference. Roberto: In social media’s power We trust! I mean, we can reach everyone in the world.
NT: In the case of your debut release – Xiu Xiu’s Respectful and Clean – did the band approach you to release their album on a cassette? They do seem to be a fan of the “exclusive, obscure, out of print, experimental, and overlooked,” as they state on their website.
Marco: We had contacted Jamie. We thought: Starting with him is the best way to communicate with our target and show our project.
Roberto: And our project is… as John Cage said: “An experimental action is one the outcome of which is not foreseen” –
NT: I’m reading about Cassette Store Day for the first time. Jen Long, the founder of UK-based label Kissability, said: “Cassette tapes aren’t just a format, they’re a culture, and cassette culture is as much about collaboration as doing it yourself.” Why do you think this “cassette culture” is seeing a comeback now?
Roberto: Exactly, Cassettes are back: “Cassette Culture” in a digital age! Why? I think… the most important thing is… reestablish connections between artist and listener … cassette tapes are a real tangible media.
Marco: So many artists / bands are releasing cassette because if you want to put out your experimental music projects and you want a physical limited edition formats to sell… cassettes are a great way of doing that. You know, vinyls are amazing but are too expensive for an “experimental project”. We’re so happy to see cassette tapes return, the artists brings out their best and can break the rules.
NT: Your second release will be an EP by The Underground Youth that will only be available on cassette and mp3 format. The logistics and investment to release music on a cassette is quite high. Especially in this case, an exclusive release, it could be argued that the artist is paying more for less people to hear their music. Do you anticipate that more artists will choose to release their albums on this format?
Marco: Definitely! Just an example, also the dj Satoshi Tomiie has released last album on 3 different physical formats CD, Vinyl LP and Cassette 🙂 and he said: “Actually I’ll use cassette again for my music production.” Anyway, Limited edition (exclusive release) is a way to reward loyal fans.
Roberto: And as mentioned before if you want your experimental music project on something tangible, something physical you can hold, but “exclusive”… tapes are the best way.
NT: Lastly, do you think that the cassette format will continue to have an exclusively niche following or do you think that with artists re-embracing this format and with events like Cassette Store Day, the goal is to get more people to listen to records on cassettes?
Marco: The majors have started to release vinyl because is a trend, is a “fashion statement” thanks to the indie label market that push it. So, in the same way it could be with the cassettes. But, of course, when something becomes massive, it does not glitter as before. So, I hope not.
Roberto: Exactly, “An exclusively niche”… I think so and I hope so!
Interviewed by Jennifer Sin.